Former Richardson Mayor Laura Jordan and her husband Mark Jordan will get a new trial, a federal judge announced Thursday, because of improper communication between a federal court officer and a juror during the couple's original trial, which concluded in March.
The juror, No. 11, sent a note to U.S. District Judge Amos Mazzant late in deliberations that she could no longer serve on the panel. Mazzant interviewed the juror in his chambers with the approval of both prosecutors and the Jordan's attorneys. The juror told Mazzant that she couldn't vote because she was "afraid of causing a hung jury," according to court documents.
She also told Mazzant that it was making her “sick to my stomach to convict them.” Mazzant told both parties that the juror was physically ill because she did not want to cause a mistrial. A debate over her status ensued, with Mazzant eventually siding with the Jordans' attorney's that the juror should return to continue deliberating.
After sending Juror No. 11 back to the jury room, Mazzant learned that the juror had also had a conversation with the court officer. She told the officer that, if she was asked in court about her vote, she would say she voted guilty "with reservation." The officer then told the juror "that she should not be concerned about any punishment the defendants may receive,” according to court documents and that if “she did not believe the defendants were guilty, she should vote not guilty.”
The interaction between the court officer and the juror was enough to warrant a mistrial, Mazzant ruled.
During her first trial, prosecutors alleged that Jordan accepted cash, trips, $24,000 worth of home renovations and a job with a $150,000 annual salary in exchange for supporting a large mixed-use development near Central Expressway.
Jordan, whose last name was Maczka at the time, is now married to the developer behind the project.
In 2015, plans for the 1,000-apartment Palisades project drew sharp protests from the NIMBY neighbors in the Canyon Creek and Prairie Creek neighborhoods adjacent to the proposed complex. They wrote more than 300 letters to the Richardson City Council opposing the project, which they said would bring crime and overcrowded schools to their neighborhood, lowering property values.
Jordan, who lived in Canyon Creek, initially opposed zoning changes that would allow more apartments to be built in Richardson. She changed her mind about the Palisades project, however. After Jordan's change of heart, a local blogging mechanic broke the news of her affair with Palisades developer Mark Jordan, leading Laura Jordan to announce that she would not seek a second term as mayor in April 2015.
Richardson subsequently investigated Jordan and the rest of the City Council, finding no evidence that they'd violated state or local ethics laws. Nevertheless, a grand jury indicted the Jordans on federal charges in May 2018.
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The Jordans' defense attorneys argued that their clients' affair was all about love and had nothing to do with the actions of the City Council. Prosecutors told jurors that their 2017 marriage was one of convenience, part of a strategy thought up by their defense team, according to reporters in the courtroom.
The jury, including Juror No. 11, eventually found both Jordans guilty of four crimes — conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud, conspiracy to commit bribery, honest services wire fraud and bribery.
United States Attorney Joseph D. Brown said late Thursday afternoon that the jury's verdict in the initial trial was correct.
“We disagree with the ruling. The jury heard weeks of testimony, carefully deliberated and found the defendants guilty. We think they got it right, and it was done fairly," he said. "The order for a new trial was based on reports from witnesses who we have not been able to talk to, or cross examine, or do any of the things that we typically do to test the accuracy of statements. What we do know from the witness statements does not seem like enough to overturn a carefully deliberated verdict.”